Hello from Tampa, Florida! The three of us (including our kitty, Susie) survived yesterday’s long travel day and are settling in to our new temporary home. Our car and belongings are still en route so we’ll be living out of backpacks and on an air mattress for a little while—but of course we’re used to that 🙂
Earlier this year I mentioned our big plans to travel and then move to Florida to start a real estate investment company, but I wanted to share more details around that decision.
Most of you know I’ve been doing this home renovation thing for a while, and it’s always been a goal of mine to become a full time investor, which is why I finally made the leap last year with the Cottage House Flip.
Lucas had a career in technology sales, but after he took a break and spent some time traveling on his own, he realized his work was no longer fulfilling. Investing in real estate was always an idea in the back of his mind, and with my experience and background, joining forces and starting our own company together just felt right.
Introducing the next chapter in our lives, DreamStone Homes. We’ll be buying and rehabbing properties in the Tampa Bay/St. Pete area, both as flips and buy & holds.
Why Florida? Well, largely due to the investor-friendly real estate market. As much as we love California, the availability of deals are slim to none, and the cost of entry is outrageous. We considered other markets like Austin and Chicago, but in the end decided we’d rather live in Florida. Lucas went to college there (UT) and some of you may remember that I lived in Jacksonville for a few years (my sister still lives there).
We love the weather, the beaches, the city amenities and low cost of living. I don’t think we’ll end up staying here forever—mostly because I crave change too much—but we believe it’s the perfect place to jumpstart our business. We haven’t purchased any properties just yet, so we’ll be living in an apartment until we find a place that makes sense to move into.
As always, I’ll be taking you guys with me on this journey, which now involves much more than renovating/decorating and traveling. Starting and operating any successful company from the ground up is quite the task, especially when there’s no Plan B. Failure is not an option for us!
Just like I DIY’ed my way through rehabbing 4 houses, we’ll both be doing the same while trying to learn the ins and outs of RE investing. We’ve spent months researching and putting our plan together, and now it’s time to execute. Through this blog (and our new vlog, coming next week!) we hope to help others on this same journey, or who are simply curious about how this all works, by sharing our experience and lessons learned.
It’s such an exciting time in our lives, and we hope to be able to look back one day to relive our humble beginnings and remember where we started. We really hope you’ll join us on this new adventure, and please reach out to say hello and let us know you’re there with us!
In the next post I’ll be sharing my design plans and obsessions for 2018. I’ve got a ton of pent up inspiration from our travels and can’t wait to show you what’s on my radar for the coming months!
If you have any questions so far, please comment below or reach me on Instagram or Facebook. We’ll also be doing some Q&A in the vlog so we may just answer your question there!
I hope your 2018 is off to a great start! The sun is shining here in Tampa and the future looks bright 😎
As we ring in the new year, I can’t let 2017 go without pausing to reflect on the incredible journey it was for us. I spent endless hours documenting our experiences—through words, photos and video, and over the last month I’ve sorted through it all to create the highlight reel. Here is Our Year:
In 2017, we left our lives behind in California to see the world. Over the course of 8 months, we traveled across 5 continents through 20 countries with just our backpacks.
There were moments of awe and sadness, times of fear and illness, and days of pure bliss. There were challenges to overcome, lessons to learn, and a lifetime of memories made.
We returned with a bond stronger than ever, a deep sense of gratitude for life and pure excitement to begin a new chapter together as a family.
2017 was truly the best year of our lives. We will hold onto this renewed sense of adventure and wonder, and take it with us through 2018 and beyond. Through the words, photos and video captured on this life changing trip, we will never forget how we felt in these moments.
You can catch all of the details, plus journal entries & photos from the entire trip by using the Search tool on this blog. And if you missed any of the travel videos, you can find them all on my Youtube channel.
Thank you for joining us on this amazing journey. It’s not over yet… 2018 will be the year of our new vlog! Come along for the ride as we move to Florida and start very different kind of adventure—investing in real estate 🙂
Cheers to a new year of endless possibilities… let’s make it our best one yet!
Since finishing up the Cottage House Flip this past February, I haven’t been able to work on a single house project in nine months—the longest break from DIY/rehabbing since I bought my first home in 2008!
Fortunately, my parents took on a project of their own during this time and I think it turned out pretty amazing—so amazing that I just had to share it with you guys. Their bathroom needed a makeover in a major way, and after two months of work, the final result was unrecognizable.
I wish I could take credit for this one, but the extent of my help was limited to opinions on tile and placing a few orders. Even though our styles aren’t exactly the same, I can always appreciate design with unique and personal touches, and that’s what this bathroom has.
They lived with the Before like this for quite some time…
Then came demo day, and putting it back together…
And here’s what it looks like today:
To help with their small space problem, my dad built a sliding barn door from tongue & groove boards he purchased from Lowe’s (then stained and distressed).
More white tongue & groove boards cover the walls and ceiling, helping the space to feel bright and open.
Dark gray tile set in a herringbone pattern continue the rustic theme, while radiant heat flooring underneath keep bare feet warm on those cold winter days.
A window surround built by my dad from barn wood replaces standard white trim, and ties in with the vanity and flooring.
Sweet farmhouse touches like metal sheep heads and vintage photos show off their mountain-country style.
My mom purchased a vanity online complete with a marble top, and spray painted the handles to match the champagne bronze faucet. The mirror was a $20 thrift store find she painted gold.
The old bathroom had no storage space at all, so they relocated a water heater to the garage and freed up space for custom open shelving.
A furnace still lives to the right of the shelving, and my dad built a custom sliding barn door to keep it hidden yet still easily accessible.
My mom loves color, so she had fun picking out tile for the shower. Classic subway tile set in a celadon green play nicely with flat river rock in varying shades of green, gray and brown.
The old, cramped tub was ditched in favor of a large shower with a wide seat.
Champagne bronze hardware keep the color palette warm and tie into the metals on the sink. Tempered glass doors allow for privacy while still allowing the room to feel open.
I’m such a fan of the way it turned out—how about you?
Thanks Mom & Dad for letting me take over your bathroom for an afternoon!
They’ve even offered to share all of their sources and costs (okay so I convinced them to… I do it all for you guys! <3)
Paint: Valspar Bistro White
All tile from a local store, not found online unfortunately 🙁
I won’t lie, I was pretty shocked running through the numbers… those labor costs are killer! Apparently they ran into dry rot/framing issues that had to be completely redone, along with all new plumbing which ate up a lot of time and money. Even still, I’ve averaged around $5k in most of my bathroom remodels and am hoping to spend less than this on kitchens in future rehabs! How does it compare to your experience and prices in your area?
I hope you enjoyed this post—it feels great to be back on the Home Blogging scene, and it’s just a taste of what’s to come in 2018! Lucas and I have some big plans and exciting updates to share in the new year, which is coming up fast. On January 9th we’ll land in Tampa to start our new lives together, and we’ll be documenting the process of moving across the country & settling in over on Instagram & Facebook if you want to follow along!
But for now, we’re enjoying the final days with our friends and family here in California before we say goodbye. I hope you have a wonderful and gratitude-filled holiday season with your loved ones this year. Happy holidays and we’ll see you back here next year!
After documenting our travels on this blog since April, it’s time for the final trip post! If you missed last weeks’ big recap (including best/worst places and a total cost breakdown), make sure to get caught up here.
I’ve made videos/vlogs for most of the countries we visited both as a creative outlet, and a way to preserve richer memories—beyond words and still photos. I’ve done my best to capture the spirit of each place and what they meant to us, and India was no exception.
India was loud, congested, vibrant, and chaotic. We were walking the line between a dream and a nightmare, where simple words and images fail to do it any justice. If you read the blog posts and cringed, prepare to be taken to the next level with this video. If you don’t ever plan to visit, consider this your virtual ticket (click to watch):
With so much to cover, this video clocks in longer than usual at 16 minutes—so grab a cup of hot cocoa or a glass of wine (I won’t judge if it’s 11am), get comfortable and enjoy! Make sure to watch until the end for my favorite part—a cinematic tribute 🙂 Disclaimer: Sorry for the poor audio in the vlog—we now have a mic for next time!
Going through all of the old footage makes us so relieved and grateful to be home. There’s nothing like a comfortable bed, clean air and moments of silence. Don’t ever take the small things for granted!
I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season with your friends & family. If you have a moment, leave a comment below or find me on instagram or facebook and let me know what you thought of the vlog, it would mean the world <3
Now that we’ve been home for a couple weeks and have had a chance to settle back in to a a new “normal”, it’s time to recap our 240-day trip around the world.
We’re covering the highs, the lows, and even revealing exactly how much everything cost! Without further ado, here’s what we came up with…
Top 3 Places
This question is almost impossible to answer because each place is so different. How can you compare an exotic beach to a snow covered mountain, or gauge how much your personal experience somewhere influenced your objective opinion about it? You can’t—but we’ve done our best to narrow it down to the places that really blew us away.
1. Machu Picchu
The more of the world I saw, the more I realized just how special Machu Picchu is. It’s beyond the stunning view you see in photos—the surrounding landscape is equally as breathtaking in person.
Towering peaks shrouded in layers of cloud and fog transport you to back in time to a prehistoric world. It’s a feeling that can’t quite be put into words—you really must experience it in person (I urge you to do so!)
2. The Italian & Swiss Alps
This famous mountain range cuts through multiple countries and when we first visited them in Italy, I was left speechless.
Every winding turn during our road trip through the Dolomites in northern Italy had me gasping in awe. I think it is truly the most breathtaking place I’ve ever been to.
The Switzerland side is equally as stunning, with its storybook scenery of hilltop chalets and bell-wearing cows—if only it wasn’t so expensive!
For Lucas’ 30th Birthday we planned to be in the medieval castle town of Carcasonne, in the South of France. His birthday falls on Bastille Day, which is the French Independence Day, and Carcasonne puts on the country’s second best fireworks show (behind Paris).
It was the first week of our road trip in Europe, and we were both on cloud nine. We frolicked through the castle walls and ate copious amounts of cheese and baguettes, sipped on French wine while picnicking in a vineyard and stared up at the fireworks while daydreaming about our future. It was pure magic, and honestly the best week of my life. Check out our France video if you haven’t watched it yet!
3. Boat trip in Rincon Del Mar, Colombia
This was one of those surreal experiences we won’t soon forget. We were staying in a tiny fishing village on Colombia’s northern coast, and hired a small boat to take us swimming with bioluminescent plankton at night. On the way out, a massive lightning storm followed us across the open ocean. We eventually made it safely, dragging the boat through a hidden passageway to a secret lagoon.
There we snorkeled amongst sparkling blue algae like a scene out of Avatar, as the night sky was lit up by the most dramatic spiderwebs of lighting we’d ever seen. I wish it was something we could capture on photo or video, but that night will live on in our memories forever.
It’s easy to gush about your favorites, but what about the ones that fell short? Here are the spots we wouldn’t recommend to anyone.
1. Jaipur, India
We arrived in Jaipur after a rough experience in Pushkar left me feeling under the weather and jaded towards India. Jaipur was known as the mecca for shopping—filled with a plethora of handcrafted items, pink buildings and palaces. Imagine our disappointment when we saw this:
Polluted, filthy, crowded, noisy and no decent shopping in sight. We did manage to have a beautiful wedding band custom made for Lucas, and the Monkey Temple was a lot of fun but those were the only two highlights. This was a lesson to always keep your expectations extremely low to avoid disappointment.
2. Salvador, Brazil
This was a similar situation for us—I became ill with the flu just as we arrived in Salvador, after raving reviews convinced us to fly there.
The city itself wasn’t horrible, but we couldn’t explore most of it as we were told to stay near our hostel because of how dangerous it was. Armed police lined the streets all day and night, and multiple people from our hostel had been robbed. It was the most dangerous place we visited and just not worth the risk to go there.
3. Tangier, Morocco
Chalk this one up to too-high of expectations, once again. When you think of Morocco, you immediately visualize pristine palaces covered in colorful patterned tile and intricate wood carvings, right? Think again.
Those instagram-worthy places do exist, but they’re usually hidden behind the closed doors of hotels or mosques, many of which you aren’t allowed in, or have to pay to enter. From the outside, Morocco looks like any other developing country, complete with the array of less-than-pleasing smells and sights that come with it. Once we accepted this and adjusted our expectations accordingly, we came to appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of Morocco… but I still wouldn’t recommend Tangier as a place to visit.
Top 5 Favorite Photos
Almost an impossible task to pair down eight months into just five photos, but here they are—chosen both from personal preference and your favorites on Instagram:
1. St. Magdalena, Italy
2. Machu Picchu, Peru
3. Pushkar, India
4. Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
5. Lago di Braies, Italy
How much did it all cost?
That’s the million dollar question! We sat down the other night and combed through every single bank and credit card statement over the past eight months. Before traveling, we knew we had enough money saved up to cover our expenses—and don’t forget, I still have an online shop I run remotely—so it wasn’t necessary to determine a specific budget beforehand.
With that said, we’re always budget minded with everything we do in life, and will travel as inexpensively as possible (without completely sacrificing comfort). And while we did spend over 3 months in Europe, more than half the trip was traveling within more affordable countries. PSA: America is one of the more expensive countries in the world, comparably.
Unfortunately, many places aren’t up to date on technology and don’t accept credit cards, so all of our cash purchases (nearly half of our expenses) are unaccounted for. So while we do know how much we spent overall, we don’t have an accurate breakdown by category. Instead, we’ve tried to break it down by country—which still isn’t entirely accurate as some of the cash spent was brought with us from home, or converted currencies along the way. Basically, use this information as a general idea and not a guidebook 🙂
The breakdown below includes everything—flights, visas, trip insurance, accommodations, food, travel, shopping (not including our wedding rings), etc. Important note: Last year, we both opened Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card accounts and received 100,000 bonus points each. We used the card almost exclusively and by the time our trip ended, we were able to redeem 512,000 points on air travel which equaled $7,700 in flights. We ended up paying another $1,670 out of pocket for airfare. That was a huge savings!
3 Weeks in Brazil: $3400
3 Weeks in Peru: $2425
8 Days in Ecuador: $900
3 Weeks in Colombia: $1187
2 Weeks in Portugal: $2716
10 Days in Spain: $2704
10 Days in France: $1869
4 Weeks in Italy: $6855
4 Days in Malta: $990
17 Days in Greece: $3026
17 Days in Croatia: $2918
4 Days in Munich: $974
1 Week in Switzerland: $1308
14 Days in Morocco: $1726
1 Week in Sri Lanka: $924
3 Weeks in India: $2636
4 Hours in Tokyo: $145
Grand Total: $37,937
When you break that down by day, we averaged $158/day for both of us, or $79/person per day. Not bad, considering rent alone in San Francisco cost $110/day for our room in a shared apartment. When you add in all of the normal living expenses, we definitely spent less while traveling the world.
We certainly could have scaled back and sacrificed things like renting cars for road trips, the occasional splurge for dinner or a nicer AirBnb, or extras like boat trips and excursions—but those became some of our favorite moments and what made the trip special.
Alternatively, we could have easily spent 2-3x as much by staying in comfortable hotels, dining out for every meal and filling our day with activities. This is what you normally do on vacation, which is why it’s difficult for people to understand how they could afford an extended international trip. But you see—this wasn’t a vacation. It was replacing our existing lifestyle with one of a nomads—trading in our apartment for a temporary bed in a new city every few days. By committing to this lifestyle change, we were able to replace most of our monthly expenses rather than add to them.
And there you have it… almost eight months of travel boiled down into one single post. I hope this was helpful to those wanting to know how we made it work, and that our trip has given others inspiration to get out there and see the world! And make sure you read about how we pack minimally in case you missed it.
Can I ask which country was your favorite to follow along with? Did any particular photos/stories convince you to make travel plans? Connect with me in the comments below or on Facebook and Instagram 🙂
Just in case you missed it, here’s the full lineup of the travel videos we made. These were so much fun to create, and a much needed creative outlet for me personally while I was away. Do you have a favorite?
Thank you all again for following along—I hope you enjoyed the ride! As always, if you have any questions about anything related to this trip, feel free to drop me a line. I’m happy to answer and share my experience with you!
The sky in northern India is a deep shade of ivory.
At 5pm, a red sun is extinguished by the thick layer of pollution far above the horizon, signaling the days end.
No one seems to notice, and time never slows down for the billions living in India, in a perpetual frenzy to get wherever they’re going.
We left Pushkar by public bus—a bumpy four hour ride where I couldn’t escape the unapologetic stares from local men.
I’d just become ill with the flu, and was praying for a comfortable bed and shower at our hostel in Jaipur.
Jaipur is best known for handmade wares, jewelry and shopping. It’s also home to several palaces and forts, and it’s one corner of the “Golden Triangle” tourist route, along with Delhi and Agra.
The city itself was the most congested we’d seen, with enough filth and trash to cover a landfill. The constant barrage of horns and yelling could be heard from every corner, including under the blanket from our bed. And this is supposed to be one of the nicer cities.
As much as I wanted to hide under the covers and sleep for three days, we had come here on a mission: to buy Lucas’ wedding band!
Back in April, we had my ring custom made in Brazil, and thought it would be neat to have his made on this trip as well. We settled on Jaipur with its reputation for the best jewelers.
We found a trusted shop, the process was simple and painless, and we couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out! We love that the stories and memories from this trip will always be wrapped around our finger.
While the ring was a success, the rest of Jaipur was a disappointment when it came to shopping. We’d planned to finish all of our holiday gifts and souvenirs here, but we struggled to find anything worth taking home. They do have great fabrics and tailors, and I picked up a couple more items, but I’d never make a special trip to Jaipur for anything else.
There was one place we couldn’t get enough of however—the Monkey Temple!
After climbing a winding mountain road past cows, goats, litters of pigs and wild gypsy children, you descend into a canyontowards a hidden temple.
Meticulously built as if it were a grand and significant place of worship in its day, now it looks more like something out of Jumanji.
Tribes of monkeys run wild, scaling the walls and rooftops, chasing each other through empty corridors and jumping on tourists heads. They’re precious and friendly monkeys though, and we could have stayed there and fed them peanuts all day. And showed them the latest iPhone apps.
Apart from the ring, those monkeys were the highlight of our three days in Jaipur, and that afternoon we were on a train to Agra.
Day 229-230: Agra
Agra is famous as home to the Taj Mahal, and infamous as the city everyone loves to hate. Even locals say not to stay there longer than a day. When our train pulled in that night, we noticed how foggy it was, and then quickly realized it wasn’t fog—it was pollution.
The thick air had a very specific stench that soaked into your skin and clothing. We stayed indoors as much as possible. From what we did see of the city though, I thought it was much nicer than Jaipur.
We were up at 5am in hopes of beating the crowds at the Taj Mahal. What we didn’t realize was that the gates didn’t even open until after 7am, so our hopes of a sunrise there were dashed.
Still, the crowds were pretty light and there were plenty of nice photo ops.
You can’t see the sky in Agra, but the pollution actually gives a beautiful, ethereal quality. Always find the silver lining 🙂
For sunset, we found a viewpoint across the river to see the Taj from a different angle. It was quite a peaceful and serene setting. I’m not sure why everyone hates Agra so much…
The next day we had an appointment to visit rescued elephants at the Wildlife SOS, just north of Agra. I’d been researching ethical sanctuaries in India, and this was the only one confirmed.
Two years ago in Thailand, I first learned about the shocking and cruel treatment to captive elephants, and fell in love with the sweet creatures during a visit to a sanctuary.
Unfortunately there are still hundreds of privately owned elephants in India today, used for everything from rides for tourists to religious/temple celebrations to begging on the street. The torture they put them through behind the scenes to domesticate and “break their spirit” is heartbreaking.
Many of the elephants were injured and blind, but they were so sweet and gentle. We learned their story, walked with them and fed them, and I didn’t want to leave.
Wildlife SOS operates on volunteers and donations, is actively in the process of trying to rescue more animals, and we were happy to contribute to such an important cause.
By that evening, we were on an overnight train to Khajuraho.
Day 231-234: Khajuraho
The sleeper train situation looks pretty awful, but it’s actually nicer than many of the hostels in India. Even with screaming babies, snoring men two feet away from your face and squatty potties with no toilet paper. I feel like we should earn some sort of certificate for “Professional Traveler” after successfully completing four overnight trains in India.
We arrived in Khajuraho, and it was like a breath of fresh (well, only halfway polluted) air.
It’s a small town out in the rural countryside, dotted with temples and very few cars.
We found a yoga/meditation center and decided to stay for four days, giving ourselves a mini retreat from the chaos between cities.
It was just the break we needed. We did yoga every morning, rode bicycles around the temples, I was treated by a holistic doctor and finally began to feel better by the time we left.
On our last night, we drove out to a house on the river in a forest of monkeys, with the owner of the hostel and a group of travelers from around the world. We watched the sunset and shared stories over a bonfire and homemade Indian food. That night we saw the stars for the first time in India, and I realized that despite what we’ve experienced here, our time is so precious, and there’s nowhere else I want to be right now than in this moment. Soon, we’re going to miss this.
Day 235-236: Varanasi
The next day, we woke up on a 14 hour train to Varanasi. Considered to be the holiest city in India, Varanasi sits along the Ganges River where worshippers come to bathe, participate in religious ceremonies and cremate the dead.
We knew going in that this would be the most intense place to experience Indian culture, and it sure lived up to its reputation.
We arrived in the afternoon and immediately wandered along the riverfront, observing the activities at each ghat (wide staircases leading down to the river). After a few minutes we came across a crowded area with burn piles. It was one of the two “burning ghats”, which is where the cremations happen.
In the Hindu religion, Varanasi is the most sought after final resting place, allowing your soul to enter directly into heaven after the sacred ritual. Worshippers travel here from all over India to secure the highest afterlife for their deceased loved ones. Children, holy men, pregnant women and those killed by a Cobra bite are exempt from cremation, and simply pushed out into the river.
We sat on the steps for some time and watched the rituals—bodies carried through the streets by chanting men then dipped into the river; a man shaving his head before performing ceremonies with mourning families; logs stacked on bodies wrapped in blood soaked sheets and set on fire. Captivated, we tried to make sense of our surroundings as goats in t-shirts frolicked around us and old bearded men tried to take our money.
The Ganges river is filled with pollution, trash, ashes and corpses—yet because it’s a ‘holy’ river, they believe it’s clean. Twenty four hours a day they come to bathe, wash their laundry, even brush their teeth in the murky water.
When you realize that this river, filled with matter in all stages of decomposition is actually the cleanest place to be in Varanasi—then you begin to understand just how filthy this place is.
The streets are like a war zone, where every step is a careful maneuver around cow dung, tobacco-filled spit, rotting food, bits of ceremonial waste and oncoming traffic. You learn real quick to only breathe through your mouth.
We set our alarms for 5am to watch the sunrise over the Ganges by boat. This is without a doubt the best way to see Varanasi.
The smoke from the constant cremations forms a thick layer above the river, creating a dreamy setting to witness this holy final resting place change color as the sun rises.
That morning, we withstood the chaos on the streets for as long as we could stand it, then retreated back to our hostel to wait for our night train. One day was more than enough time to spend in Varanasi.
Day 237-240: New Delhi
After sixteen hours in a delayed train, we had arrived to our last and final stop. It was a bittersweet realization, but one we had both been looking forward to.
New Delhi is India’s capital city, with 26 million inhabitants in the metro area. At this point in our trip, we were thrilled to see taller buildings and neon signs which signaled a more developed civilization.
The neighborhood we stayed in had a main bazaar road, and reminded us a bit of Bangkok (without all the backpackers). We were pleased to find great shopping here, and stocked up on souvenirs and Christmas gifts.
One thing we’d been wanting to try during this trip was a cooking class, and with Indian food being one of our favorite cuisines, Delhi was the perfect place to make it happen.
We found a lady offering private classes in her home, and took the metro across town to meet her one evening.
The class took several hours (Indian food is complicated!) and we made four dishes, which were easily the most delicious we’d had in all of India (and a contender for best on this entire trip!). She sent us home with boxes of spices, and we’re looking forward to recreating them for our friends and family at home.
As we were approaching our last day, the idea of getting tattoos came up. At first it was a joke, but then it somehow morphed into a good idea, and the next day we were in a tattoo shop.
I’ve always said I’d never get a tattoo, but in this moment, something inside me changed. After such a momentous year for us, we felt the need to memorialize this trip in a permanent way—and a tattoo seemed like the best way to do that.
I decided on the word ‘Gratitude’ written in Arabic.
Gratitude is the one thing I’ve gained most from this trip. Experiencing cultures from all corners of the world and walking in their shoes is incredibly humbling, and puts life into perspective. You can’t help but shift into a more grateful state of mind, and with gratitude there is no fear, no hate, no negativity. It’s essential for living a good life, and this small reminder will now always be with me. I think Arabic is the most beautiful written language on earth, and am in love with the way it turned out.
Lucas came up with the idea of two camels being led by a shepherd. The camels represent both of us, and the shepherd represents our purpose that is guiding us—our what or why in life. Our purpose may change through the different seasons of life, but it’s a reminder to follow what’s true and not stray from it.
You’ll have to excuse the swollen and scabbed appearance in these photos—they’re still healing and will look quite different in a couple weeks. The ink is actually a medium brown which will look more like a henna once it’s healed. We absolutely love them and what they represent. Oh, and here’s how my infamous travel sandals look after 8 months and approximately 970 miles across 5 continents later… I need to preserve these things forever 😉
What have I learned from the past eight months?
That there is an incredible amount of beauty in the world, and so much more good than there is bad. It may not seem that way right now, because those who are negative are the loudest. Negativity is a cancer that can spread like wildfire when left unchecked, and only positivity and love can stop it. The majority of us are fighting the good fight and we can’t forget to speak up.
Never forget how fortunate you are to have your freedom. Use that freedom to choose happiness, to travel the world and see the beauty that exists. It’s all around us, you just have be looking for it.
Time isn’t measured by minutes, but rather in the richness of moments. Fill those moments with gratitude and you’ll live wealthier than you could ever imagine.
Thank you for following us on this journey around the globe. Now we turn the page to end this chapter as we prepare to begin our longest, and hopefully most rewarding one yet.
Stay tuned for the final piece of our travels—the India vlog!
As I press publish on this post, we’re on a plane back home to the states—for good! Our trip has finally come to an end (I’ll talk more about my feelings on this later) but I still have a few more posts coming your way to recap the final days.
Now that it’s all over, our visit to Sri Lanka feels like ages ago. We spent a week there in late October, just before arriving to India. One week is entirely too short to spend in this country and we didn’t get to see everything we’d hoped to, but we still got the “Sri Lanka experience” with a few surprises along the way.
Click below to watch what happened, our favorite and not-so-favorite memories, and also how we handle all of those long travel days (trust me, it’s not glamorous!):
Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends. It feels great to come home.
It’s a place of opposites—a constant battle of extremes struggling to stay in balance. Chaos and peace, beauty and filth, life and death—all weaved together to form the fabric of a vibrant culture. Each day I feel like I’m walking the fine line between a nightmare and a dream.
India is the one place that captivated me as a child. Thanks to movies like A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and Aladdin (I now know that’s not technically India, but still) I was mystified by this exotic land of jungles and elephants and ancient temples. I decorated my bedroom with jewel toned bedding and silk pillows, statues of Buddha surrounded by candles and incense, even covered my walls with a desert sunset mural. It was a phase that lasted years, and even when it passed, that sense of awe and wonder for India always remained.
In recent years, that pedestal has been chipped away at with harrowing tales of illness, pollution and danger. Every word of advice from other travelers is preceded by a warning. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, they’d say, and the last place you’d travel to in search of a quiet, relaxing vacation.
That made it the perfect place to end our eight month journey so we could go back with a true appreciation for the luxury and comfort of home.
The first day upon arriving in a new country is always the most exciting, and even after 20 countries in eight months, it hasn’t lost its thrill. We arrived in Kochi, trying to make sense of all the new sights and sounds and smells, which every country in Asia has in abundance.
India is the world’s second most populated country, just short of China, and even in the calmer south you can’t escape the sheer volume of people. Drivers behave as if they’re in a video game, weaving their way within inches of other cars and motorcycles, pedestrians and animals. The bigger the vehicle, the more right of way you have. Pedestrians are at the bottom of the food chain—cows are at the top.
Trash, broken objects, people and animals lie motionless along the sides of every street. At first glance you assume there’s been an accident, but after a few days you become desensitized and accept this new normal.
We began our three weeks in Kochi after learning about boat tours offered along the backwaters in India’s southern state of Kerala.
A quick hour drive from town, we were packed in a van with other travelers and set out into the murky, stagnant river guided by a man with an oar who didn’t speak much.
It was a swelteringly humid day, and we sipped on fermented palm leaves bought from a local as he rowed by, while exchanging stories with other travelers in our boat.
We stopped by the home of a family and watched as they made rope, and then gathered into a makeshift shelter where we were served a delicious lunch prepared by the villagers.
While we enjoyed our time, I can’t say I’d recommend coming all the way to southern India just to experience the backwaters. On our last day in Kerala, we hired a driver to take us up toAthirapally Falls, which we found to be much more worthwhile.
You have to watch out for the monkeys here, though—they’re quite aggressive. We saw them go after a few terrified children, who probably have a complex now.
After getting stuck in Kochi for an extra day (thanks to Air India who canceled our tickets with no explanation), we finally found a last minute flight up north.
Day 221-224: Pushkar, India
While traveling, we always seek out local festivals/events in each country. Those experiences more often than not become the most memorable part of our trip, and the Pushkar Fair 2017 was no exception.
Originally the world’s largest camel trading event, the Pushkar Fair is also home to a major religious celebration, with hundreds of thousands making the pilgrimage to Pushkar Lake, considered to be India’s holiest.
The week of activities also includes a fair with hot air balloon rides, concerts, games, competitions and cultural ceremonies. It has become one of India’s most popular annual attractions.
On the evening of our arrival, we wandered the streets of Pushkar, trying to absorb an entirely new level of chaos. The air was thick with smoke and dust, and the sun cast a pink glow onto the town, providing an ethereal backdrop for the characters of a movie-like scene we’d suddenly walked into.
We were surrounded by camels decorated head to toe, children painted blue, cows with extra legs, men with moustaches that reached the ground and bands of gypsies who tried to corner me and force a henna tattoo.
Every few steps revealed a new sight to behold… but apparently to everyone else, we were the main attraction. Families, groups of men and women followed us around, asking to take selfies. Flattered, we obliged. A photo was never just one photo though, as every person in the group needed their own, with ten different camera angles.
Mothers placed their babies in our arms as if we had healing properties, and pushed their confused children at us.
As westerners, we knew to expect this, though it was definitely much more than we had anticipated. In four days at Pushkar, there were more photos taken of me than in my 32 years on this earth combined. No joke.
On Day 2, we made our way down to the lake to witness the religious bathing ceremony. This took place constantly all day and night, with the highest concentration of worshippers on the last night during the full moon.
Before we knew it, we were separated and whisked away by priests, handing us a tray of flowers as we knelt with them on the steps. We did some chanting, threw our flowers into the lake, they marked our forehead with pigment and somehow got us to donate all of our money to avoid bad karma. An expensive lesson, but at least the money goes to a good cause (we hope).
Later, were approached by a local asking us to participate in an Indian Bride and Groom competition. With no plans for the day, we decided “why not?”, and showed up at a salon at 4:30 pm to get all dolled up by an enlisted glam squad.
If you think American weddings take a lot of preparation… you’ve never been to India. We spent nearly five hours in that room, getting fitted with layers upon layers of clothing, jewelry and makeup. Running late, they rushed us backstage where we met 50+ other foreigners dressed in similar Indian attire, and equally as confused about what to expect.
The show began an hour late (nothing in India starts even remotely on time) and we were quickly instructed to just appear on stage and slowly walk/dance as an Indian bride would. Great, clear as mud.
Apparently this competition is a pretty big deal in India. There were thousands of people in the audience, along with rows of TV cameras and photographers and a drone filming everything.
I hadn’t brushed up on my Indian dance moves, so when it was my turn I had a little fun with it—strutting down the catwalk in my best Miss America impersonation.
The rest of the competition was basically a blur—there was more dancing and I was called up to answer a question (I killed it, by the way 😉 ) and then it was time for crowning.
My stud in blue claimed the 3rd place Groom! So proud.
I was not as fortunate however—I think my dance moves were a little too bold for the judges.
We were then rushed off stage as a fight broke out, Lucas was interviewed by news cameras and our Indian glam squad grabbed us by the arms and shielded us from the unruly fans outside.
It was all over in the blink of an eye, and we laughed as we walked back to our hostel saying “wait, did that really just happen?”
On the final day of the Pushkar Fair, there were supposed to be hot air balloons flying over the lake at sunrise. We wanted to make the most of our last day, so we decided to get up at 5:30am and walk to a temple on top of a hill to witness the event. The streets had been incessantly loud and hectic, so we were looking forward to a quiet walk with few people around.
As we left our hostel in the dark, we were surprised to find it even more crowded than normal. It was the final day of the fair, and the most religious, when all of the pilgrims gather at the lake to bathe. We just didn’t know they’d all come at once for sunrise.
As we neared the lake, the crowds became more dense. I grabbed Lucas’ hand tight so we wouldn’t get separated. Soon we were at a complete standstill, with thousands of heads in front of us as far as the eye could see. We looked on our map to try to find a way out, but the roads had been blocked off. There was no escaping this.
Then came the pressure. Suddenly we were pushed into the people in front of us until we became one large mass of bodies. Everyone was yelling, my bag was getting ripped from my arm, screaming children and babies were thrown on tops of shoulders to avoid being crushed, and I yelled to Lucas in a panic “Get us out!” But there was nothing he could do.
I felt men’s hands on my body, squeezing and groping me. “STOP!” I screamed, unable to move to see who was doing it. Finally I grabbed onto one of the mans’ fingers, traced his hand back to his face and it took everything I had to not punch him, which would have resulted in getting trampled.
It was a nightmare, and instantly tarnished the way I felt about India.
Eventually we managed to jump on top of a counter in a storefront as the mass continued to push forward. Shaken and on the verge of tears, we waited until there was an opening, and took the first side street to safety.
There never were hot air balloons that morning after all, and the lackluster sunrise was muddled by thick clouds of sand.
After four days in Pushkar, we were ready to get out. I woke up with the flu on the morning we left for Jaipur, bracing myself for the remaining two weeks in India. We were about to enter the worst of it—a constant barrage of pollution, noise, crowds and sickness that we couldn’t hide from. We questioned our sanity in continuing down this path when we could simply hop on the next plane out… but we were committed to experiencing all of India, both the good and bad.
We have only two cities left, and I’m still sharing all of the crazy/shocking/beautiful pieces of each day over on my instagram stories. There isn’t a dull moment, so feel free to follow along if you need a little spice in your life.
After abandoning our plans to make a video for Morocco (thanks to the whole drone debacle), in a spur of the moment one night in Tangier, we instead pressed Record on our phone. That first clip turned into hundreds over the next two weeks, and we wound up with a new documentary style vlog—something we’ve never done before (click to watch):
I was still able to make a quick video from my DSLR footage, so make sure to watch until the end for that! We had a lot of fun with this new format, and are already working on similar vlogs for both Sri Lanka and India. We might even continue the vlogs once we move and start up our real estate company in January (either way, there will be a lot more video!)
Let us know if you’re a fan of the new documentation/vlog style—your feedback is very helpful! You can reach out directly on my instagram, facebook or snapchat @jennasuedesign.
At the time this goes live, we’ll have only two weeks left on our round the world trip! We’re focusing on getting the most we can out of our last days in India… and so far, it has been the most intense country yet. Lots of stories on the way (or keep up with my instagram stories to see it all live!)
Getting to Sri Lanka from Morocco was no simple task—from the moment we left our riad in Marrakech it would be another 43 hours until we stepped inside our hostel in Colombo.
The travel process began with an overnight train to Tangier, a half day at the airport followed by a flight to Spain, another layover followed by a redeye to Delhi, then a third layover with a third flight to Colombo, ending with a three hour taxi to our hostel. It was our longest travel day(s) on record, and left us borderline exhausted but equally as excited to be in a new country.
As soon as we stepped off the plane in Sri Lanka, that familiar wet and humid Asian air filled our lungs. Palm tree jungles as far as the eye can see, smoky skies from burning trash and the putter of tuk tuks racing through the streets. I’m immediately taken back to my Southeast Asian backpacking days, and a wave of nostalgia washes over me. This is my happy place.
Almost exactly two years ago, Lucas and I met in Vietnam, and the striking similarities here in Sri Lanka sparked fond old memories for us. It’s amazing how much your environment dictates your experiences and ultimately your entire life (and this is why travel is so important!)
Day 210-211: Kandy, Sri Lanka
With only one week before our flight up to India, time was limited so we only spent one night in Colombo before heading inland to the mountains.
We had the option of renting a private car/driver for the week at $45/day, but we wanted to experience Sri Lanka as the locals do—so instead we opted to take the train.
The trains here are famous for being quite the spectacle, and we wanted to experience it firsthand.
The first and second class reserved seats are always sold out months in advance, so we ended up in the free for all section. As our 12:00 train arrived, every seat had been claimed before we even had a chance to grab our backpacks.
Sri Lankans are ruthless—when the train pulls up, they’re throwing their bags and their babies through the window to get a seat as it’s still moving. We stood no chance.
Debating on whether to wait three hours for the next one, we push our way to the back and get cozy with the locals. The train cars are crammed with as many people as they can fit, including bodies hanging off the train—which turns out to be the most coveted spots for the breathing air and views.
Lucas was practically sitting in this woman’s lap while I had some guys’ arm pits on either side of my head and for two hours we can’t move an inch. Finally, someone in the seat beside us jumps off and we’re able to grab their seat and witness miles of jungle landscape rolling past us for the remaining two hours.
At $1 per train ticket, you really can’t complain.
Before nightfall we arrive in Kandy, a charming little town on a lake and the hub for the center of the country.
It was here that we got our first real taste of Sri Lankan food—as delicious as it was cheap! Full meals cost around $2 on average, and our favorite dish was kottu (a stir fried mix of cabbage, veggies, bread and spices). From street food to restaurants to home cooked dinners, there wasn’t a meal we didn’t completely devour (and nope, we didn’t get sick once!)
Day 212-213: Ella, Sri Lanka
After just one full day in Kandy, it was already time to move on. We’d heard great things about Ella, a mountain town seven hours south, so we booked a Homestay there for the following night.
Not wanting to be stuck standing in a train for hours, we went to the bus station to see our options. This proved to be impossible, as the bus “station” was merely a line of snack vendors and hundreds of locals fighting for elbow room on a podium as unmarked buses with blaring horns squeezed past the madness. There was no one on duty and no signs in English, so we gave up and found a tour agency in a hotel.
Reluctantly, we handed over $60 for first class train tickets (later finding out its illegal for them to buy/mark up/resell) but a guaranteed seat for such a long journey was worth the cost to us.
The train ride from Kandy to Ella is touted as one of the most scenic in the world. We settled into our seats, quickly realizing that they weren’t even necessary as we found ourselves hanging off the doorway most of the time.
Those seven hours flew by fast with plenty of breathtaking views to admire. It’s really a must-do if you find yourself in Sri Lanka!
That afternoon we arrived in Ella, and settled into this beautiful homestay we’d found for $25/night. At that price, it wasn’t the cheapest option available, but the view from our balcony made it worth every penny.
Just before sunset a double rainbow appeared, then the sky turned pink and the fog started to roll in. Birds and insects began chirping all around us, there were flashes of lightning and thunder and then monks begin chanting in the distance, filling the valley with their echoes.
It was one of those speechless and truly memorable moments that will stand out on this entire trip.
The next day we hired a tuk tuk to take us around. Our first stop was a Buddhist temple inside of a cave.
Afterwards we watched the train pass over the picturesque Nine Arch Bridge.
From there we drove out to Rawana Ella Falls, a popular spot for locals to bathe and wash their hair.
A group of monkey mamas and their babies were playing in the street, and we yelled for our driver to stop so we could snap a photo. Just look at those sweet faces!
Every afternoon, like clockwork, it downpours during monsoon season. Our day in the outdoors was cut short so we waited out the storm under a cafe, drinking local tea and devouring kottu. While this weather means we don’t get to spend as much time exploring and seeing the country, it’s also so nice to just be able to relax in bed and listen to the storm. It feels like we’re constantly on the move and filling our day with activities, so the downtime in Sri Lanka was savored.
The next morning we went on a quick hike to Little Adams Peak—a mountain ridge with sweeping views of Ella Rock, distant waterfalls and the surrounding forest.
Buddhist shrines and pups greeted us at the top.
Just before the afternoon storm hit, we caught a ride to our final destination of Haputale.
Day 214-215: Haputale, Sri Lanka
We’re greeted by our host, Ikka, and brought inside— it’s a small and modest home to a family of four, who share a bedroom and one small bathroom with no light and a hole in the wall for air. Ikka informed us that the power was out, and would be back on within a couple hours.
We carried our bags to a dark and damp bedroom, painted in bright colors with a ceiling that had seen better days. The air is cold and we layer on what little clothing we carry to keep warm. (Excuse the fuzzy screen shots, but this gives you an idea…)
Hours pass with no sign of electricity, and we have dinner by candlelight prepared by Ikka’s wife and served by his cute children. Later that night we huddle together on a rock hard mattress underneath a mosquito net for protection, covered in damp clothing and blankets. Coming from our previous homestay that felt like luxury, we had to laugh at our current situation and think of it as a fun glamping trip in the jungle. At $8/night, we were still getting a bargain, and getting to stay with a local family and experience real Sri Lankan village life was icing on the cake.
By the next day, the power hasn’t returned and all of our devices are nearly dead. We’re assured it would only be a matter of hours, and flag down a local bus to start our last day of adventure in Sri Lanka.
Haputale is known for its tea plantations, and perhaps the most scenic is at the Lipton Factory. Seven kilometers of winding pathways takes you to the top of a mountain ridge with 360° views. Unfortunately for us it was cloudy that morning, so we weren’t able to see much from the top, but the long walk through the plantation made up for it.
We leisurely strolled through rolling hills, waterfalls and small villages, stopping to admire and take photos of the scenery. We passed cows, tuk tuks and friendly workers gathering tea leaves who smiled and waved at us.
At the bottom of the valley is a large tea factory built by Lipton in the 1800’s. We took a tour and learned about the process of black and green tea production, and enjoyed a cup over conversation with a local while waiting for the bus.
Back at our homestay, the power still had not returned, so we continued to wait patiently as the monsoon passed and the sky grew dark. We hadn’t showered in days, all of our electronics were dead and we needed to check into our flight and book a hotel for the following day. Desperate, we grabbed our bags and ran down the hill in the rain, searching for somewhere to go. Fortunately, another homestay (with electricity) was able to take us in for the night, and we were finally able to reconnect with the world and calm my frantic mothers’ nerves.
A happy ending to a memorable week in this friendly little island nation. You’ll always find an adventure in Sri Lanka!
As I write this, we’re nearly a week into our last destination of India, trying to navigate our way through the chaos. There’s so much to take in, and I’m sharing moments of it over on my Instagram stories. Find me there and see how life is lived on the other side of the world!
Out of all the places I've traveled, Greece spoke to me like no other. It comes as no surprise then that this was also my favorite video to put together (Click to watch):
I have to give most of the credit to the song, which I fell in love with the moment I heard it months ago and knew I wanted to do something with it (JT can do no wrong!)
Greece was the perfRead More »
Eight weeks ago we rented a car in Milan and embarked on a 30 day adventure that would take us on a 2000km journey around Italy.
In 30 days we saw everything from Lake Como & Garda, to the Dolomites, Venice, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi Coast, Matera and Alberobello, Tropea, the beaches and countryside of Sicily and countless hidden gems Read More »
Day 149-150: Athens
If there were a heaven on earth, it would surely have been created by the Greek Gods. Turns out this place does exist, and it can be found in the islands of Greece.
We landed in Athens after a short flight from Malta, where we planned to stay just a couple nights before catching a ferry to Milos.
With Greece's capital city so deeply rooted inRead More »
Day 146-148: Malta
Truth be told—a few months ago I wouldn't have been able to point to Malta on a map. It wasn't until we met two Maltese girls while traveling in Peru back in May that the country was put on our radar. Thanks to random encounters like these while traveling, we've been able to experience a completely new land and culture that we would have otherwiseRead More »
Day 137: Naples > Capri
After finally getting our first taste of authentic Italy during those few days in Rome, we boarded a southbound train to Naples.
Northern Italy has beautiful sights—from the alps to the Tuscan countryside, the Mediterranean coastline to Venice—it's not to be missed.
But Southern Italy? That's where the soul is. I felt it from the day weRead More »
Day 129: San Gimignano > Siena
Our quick stop in Florence ended with an unexpected surprise as I was handed the keys to a free car rental upgrade:
We excitedly hopped inside our new turbocharged Fiat Spider, whom I named Frances (after the leading lady in Under the Tuscan Sun, naturally), and headed south.
Rome would be our final destination with Frances, and Read More »
Day 121-122: Venice
Five days after we'd picked up the keys to our Fiat in Milan, the first and memorable leg of our Italian road trip had come to an end in Venice.
We were warned about the comedown effect of leaving such a breathtaking and peaceful part of the world, only to jump in to the touristic chaos of one of Italy's top destinations, and we were prepared.Read More »
Day 116-117: Milan > Lake Como
After having the time of our lives road tripping through France, we decided to do the same for Italy. We plan to break it up to segments between the major city stops of Venice, Florence, Rome and Sicily.
The first leg of our adventure began in Milan with our next rental car, Franzi the Fiat. Loaded up and ready to go, we headed norRead More »
After days of filming and hours of editing, I think we've made our favorite video yet (I know I've said that before, but this one was definitely the most fun!) Click below to watch our journey through France:
If you missed the blog recaps, make sure to catch up on Part 1 and Part 2. France was much more than the countryside and castles we'd expected, and we hopRead More »
Day 108: Carcassone > Albi > Peyre > Millau
Still riding our high from an incredible two days in Carcassonne, it was time once again to hit the road. With no specific destination or accommodations booked, we quickly googled a few places on the map headed towards the ones that caught our eye.
Heading north, we passed through rolling hills blanketed in fielRead More »
Day 94-96: Seville
We last left off in our final day in Portugal as we crossed the border via bus to Spain. Our first stop was Seville, which was a last minute change of plans as I needed a few urgent legal documents notarized (tip: don’t ever sell a house while overseas!)
Most of our time in Seville was spent dealing with notary/embassy/shipping issues, unRead More »
Even with two blog posts filled with 2000 words and countless photos, Portugal needs much more to do it justice. You need to feel the energy of thousands dancing in the streets of Porto, hear the waves crashing against the cliffs of the Algarve, taste the fresh Sangria in Lisbon and watch fog swirl around the medieval castletops of Sintra.
While I wish I could reacRead More »
Day 89: Sintra, Portugal
After a wild weekend in Porto, we landed back in Lisbon to rest up for the night before stepping back in time to a magical land...
Whether you like pretending you are a princess or a knight, castles bring out the child in all of us. Europe is known for having some spectacular castles, and Sintra Portugal is home to a few exceptional onRead More »
Day 82-84: Lisbon, Portugal
After a short but sweet ten days back home to celebrate an engagement, birthday and wedding, we were on a plane once again—bound for Portugal.
Our first stop to begin five months of backpacking across Europe, Lisbon is Portugal's capital city and we had high expectations after hearing countless raving reviews.
Jet lagged from a full daRead More »
Hello from Portugal! We arrived last week and have already fallen in love with this country. I’ve been sharing parts of our experience on my Instagram stories, and I’ll be back soon with a more in depth blog post.
But first: I’ve had a ton of requests asking how I pack for these extended trips, what items/bags I use, how I decide what to bring, etc. Last week IRead More »
In my last two posts, I shared many stories and photos from our three weeks in Colombia—from the mountains of Medellin, to volcanic baths and unspoiled islands, to coffee plantations, national parks and bustling cities on the Caribbean. It's one of our favorite countries for so many reasons, and now it's captured forever in a 3 minute video.
Click below to watch ouRead More »
Day 58-60: Rincon Del Mar
On Sunday morning we bid our friends farewell and caught a cab to the local Montería bus station. Chelsie and Kon had taken the bus to Rincon Del Mar the weekend before and raved about it as one of Colombias best kept local secrets.
We'd been long overdue for a beach fix, so we booked a couple nights there on our way to Cartagena.
After Read More »